Joy Clark: From corporate saleswoman to entrepreneur and ambassador of hope
Joy Clark, by her own account, has enjoyed her journey through the rough and tumble of a male-dominated corporate world that saw her rising in the ranks of firms like the former Mutual Life, Desnoes & Geddes, Cable & Wireless Jamaica and then its competitor Digicel.
Now, the Montego Bay-based sales and marketing expert has taken a bold dive into the uncertain waters of entrepreneurship and non-profit work, motivating especially women and youth.
Having spent 13 years, two months and 17 days, which were "beautiful, rewarding, challenging" at Digicel Jamaica heading up its western roll-out and sales management team, Clark decided to demit office earlier this year on her third try for voluntary redundancy.
With the "little-more-than-the-usual redundancy package" she received from the telecoms giant, she has established enJoy the Journey, a corporate and personal development coaching outfit, and is pitching locally and globally to help individuals and companies achieve their goals.
At the same time, she is building out a growing real estate portfolio, having just acquired her third rental property.
The Financial Gleaner caught up with her in a classroom between sessions of her latest self development foray - a real estate management class at the Real Estate Training Institute in Kingston.
Clark says that for her, learning never ends, but it must fit into a larger picture.
Her plan is to eventually cut out the property manager middlemen she paid in the past and manage her real estate investment herself while building out the portfolio. She was drawn to property acquisition having made a solemn promise to herself not to repeat the constant house-moving she and her five siblings endured in childhood because her mother always had difficulty paying rent.
"I knew when the end of the month was approaching, because my mother's temperament would change," Clark said.
"I could see the tears - she tried to hide them - when she couldn't pay the rent. So one of the things I resolved was that at the first opportunity, I was going to own my own house. I did that at age 19. So I am a landlord. I needed one to make sure, then I needed another one to be abundantly sure. Then I just became a fan of owning properties."
For now, the property rentals take an important second place to her first passion: empowering people to make the most of their corporate and personal journeys. With at least one major partnership struck in the United States and other local sponsorship deals - including with her former workplace - on the cards, Clark has assembled a team of six for her September roll-out of enJoy the Journey.
For now, she still has a few more weeks of 'time out', including a trip to 'rep' for Jamaica at the World Championships in London. At the same time, she is tweaking the business plan, including running the numbers and mapping out strategy for raising capital.
"We are working with certain targets and looking at the numbers. We will see what the capital requirements are," she said.
Fulfilment of deep desire
Clark says the new undertaking is not just a business, but the fulfilment of her deep desire to share with others the proven best practices of her own rise in the corporate world and her personal journey through a rewarding life. It's about how to "keep to the core, swim with the sharks and not get eaten," she says.
"From the experience I have had and the corporate positions I have held in companies that were very male-dominant and competitive, I decided that I know enough in the corporate space to encourage women especially to break the glass ceiling and move to the top. In that journey, there is a lot of fear and anxiety. I feel empowered when I speak to people about what they need to do to get ahead."
Among her target audience are people in transition - those newly laid-off workers swelling the ranks of the unemployed as more companies restructure.
Clark explains the focus: "There are a lot of fears that come with losing your job. I help people to understand that the job is not your life. You can step out, prepare your juniors to take over and prepare to grab the next opportunity. From my experience, I realised that nobody can make me redundant. Only you can make yourself redundant."
Her wellspring of positivity is generated by a lifetime of corporate achievements selling life insurance; then beers, soft drinks, wines and spirits; and thereafter growing the national and western markets for Digicel.
The span of Clark's career has crossed diverse sector. After eight years in the aircraft handling business as a representative with AJAS Limited, her insurance agent enticed her to join now defunct Mutual Life, where she spent five years in sales. Seven months after entering the insurance industry she qualified for the million dollar round table and continued to qualify for, four consecutive years thereafter ultimately earning life member status.
However, not all her colleagues were thrilled by her accomplish-ments. The rising young sales star, who before had been accustomed to men looking at her in admiration and awe, now had to contend with corporate testosterone directed aggressively against her for repeatedly beating them in business performance.
Her next foray in sales was with drinks company Desnoes & Geddes Limited, which now trades as Red Stripe Jamaica, where after another five-year stint, she encountered her first redundancy as the business restructured and she saw the emotional trauma many of her colleagues endured as a result of having lost their jobs.
"I was made redundant even though I was at the top of my game. I decided that I was going to use it as a strengthening point and just get out there and utilise my skills, because I knew I was a very good sales person. I encouraged others in my team to do the same," Clark said.
In 1999, she was invited to join Cable & Wireless as the company sought to shore up its market ahead of the expected entry of Digicel. That job afforded her another five years of experience, an important introduction to the telecoms business and good preparation for the next stage of her journey, 13 years at rival Digicel.
Journey out west
"I had planned to spend five years at Digicel. Five years came and went very quickly. I did an interview to join the team in Kingston and convinced them that they need to have a presence in the west, where the business is won," said Clark. "The CEO at the time, David Hall, believed in me and gave me all the support I needed," she recalled.
Having signed up for the challenge, Clark realised her operation would require the building out of infrastructure, marketing and sales among other functions.
At various times, her job title at Digicel has been head of western regional sales, national head of sales and head of western operations.
While steering the telecoms' western shop, Clark completed her first degree in business studies with first-class honours at the University of the Commonwealth Caribbean (UCC) and benefited from a scholarship from her employers. This placed her in an accelerated leadership training track and executive masters in business administration (EMBA) at the 'Digicel University' programme with the Mona School of Business at the University of the West Indies.
"God brought the redundancy when I needed it most," the newly minted entrepreneur said of her departure from Digicel a few months ago. "My big son just finished law school and is about to do his master's in the US, and my 'little baby' is entering law school."
Clark is now set to train rising professionals in focused, balanced, and sensitive corporate leadership. She recounts the Digicel years when she encouraged her team not only to surpass corporate goals, but to achieve important personal ones as well. For example, all her former team members were encouraged and have achieved the dream of home ownership.
Having retained her voluntary position as vice-president of the Digicel Foundation, Clark is keen on embarking on her new business venture and excited to be launching out in non-profit work among youth, saying she has a compelling story to tell of transcending from a life of need to achieving her life's goals by being focused, prepared and persevering.
Life of poverty
"My mother, a teacher by profession, who did dressmaking and was at times a household helper, raised six children single-handedly and experienced a lot of need and lack. We lived in every inner city in Montego Bay - Flankers, Capture Land, Norwood, Granville, Pitfour, Hart Street," Clark said.
She recalls her mother having to cook enough porridge some mornings so there was some left over for dinner and her ingenuity of polishing one daughter's black "hand me down" shoes to brown when the shoe colour requirements changed at their high school, Mt Alvernia, in Montego Bay.
"I have had those experiences to my advantage," said Clark, adding that what's important is that "you know where you come from and where you are going".
Holding firm to the belief that "your past does not define you", the 53-year-old wants to motivate at-risk youngsters towards a better life than scamming, prostitution and other social ills. She has started a school-speaking programme, encouraging students to stay focused, work hard and be determined to achieve their goals.
"enJoy the Journey tells people that you don't have to remain in the valley. And when you enjoy life, you also learn to enjoy the time in the valley, because there is usually a lesson that the Lord is teaching you," she said.